Paramount Pictures, 2016
LOS ANGELES (ORA) — The newly-released film, “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”, documents the real life experiences of defenders on the ground during the September 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. It effectively throws light on a number of conflicting reports surrounding the tragedy, but a handful of key questions remain ambiguous.
The Paramount Pictures film, which stars James Badge Dale and John Krasinski, centers on accounts from the book, written by journalist Mitchell Zuckoff, along with five former CIA contractors. The contractors, who defended the lightly guarded diplomatic post and a nearby CIA “annex” during the attack, give eyewitness accounts of the assault, and Zuckoff does well in recounting the heroism of the private security contractors during and after the attack. However, while the book has received a lot of media attention (securing 32 segments on Fox News alone from Jan. 4 through Jan. 19 – according to the Washington Post), outlets are still opinionated over several key points from the 13 Hours narrative, which does make some controversial claims, including a top official issuing a "stand down" order, delaying the rescue mission to the diplomatic compound. The movie also shows repeated requests by Americans on the ground in Benghazi for U.S. military air cover that never showed up. It also touches on the dispute about a possibility the attack itself was inspired by an anti-Muslim video, as some within the Obama administration suggested in the days immediately following.
Let’s take a look at the TOP FOUR claims and see how they stand against the facts:
1. "Stand down! Wait for my word ... You will wait."
ANSWER: It’s DEBATABLE.
The movie shows the CIA station chief, identified as "Bob", telling contractor, Tyrone Woods, that the team must wait for help from pro-American Libyan forces.Bob’s reasoning centered around the CIA annex’s location being secret, and suggested that leaving it would expose them to enemy assault and place the lives of more than 30 others at risk.
"You're not the first responders. You will wait," Bob says in the movie.
THE FACTS: One of the contractors, Kris Paronto, has indicated on social media that he supports the film, writing on Twitter that "13 Hours" was "a real war movie.” He also attended the red carpet premiere. TIME reported that while there is proof the security team was told to wait, "there is no evidence of a 'stand down' order." Democratic lawmakers have supported this fact, but Paronto told Politico they were simply incorrect.
“There is no sensationalism in that: We were told to ‘stand down,’” he said. “Those words were used verbatim — 100 percent. … If the truth of it affects someone’s political career? Well, I’m sorry. It happens."
A 2014 report by the U. S House Intelligence Committee said it "found no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support" after the State Department compound came under attack. A report by Republicans on the U.S House Armed Services Committee also said no restrictions were placed on a military response.
The CIA base chief, whose name has not been released, argues the movie's account, telling The Washington Post, "There never was a stand-down order… At no time did I ever second-guess that the team would depart."
Author Mitchell Zuckoff told The Associated Press that he based the scene on several firsthand accounts, and says:
"It's not credible what he's claiming," Zuckoff said of the station chief. Zuckoff also said he had tried to interview the station chief when writing the book, but his request was denied.
In the movie — and in real life — the operators took action about 20 minutes after the initial calls for help were issued from the diplomatic compound.
2. "I called for air support. It never came."
A CIA analyst tells a colleague after the second attack — a military-style assault on the CIA annex — that she asked for military support, but it never came.
"If you don't send air support, Americans are going to die," including her, the analyst says in a phone call with an unidentified person.
THE FACTS: Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top officials have said they moved quickly to deploy commando teams from Spain and Central Europe during the attacks, but the first military unit didn't arrive until 15 hours after the first of two attacks.
"Time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response," Panetta told Congress in 2013.
According to U.S House Armed Services Committee report, U.S. Air Force F-16 fighters stationed in Aviano, Italy, at the time were configured for training flights. None was on combat alert.
In a 2013 hearing, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, said it would have taken up to 20 hours to get the planes ready and on their way, and he added that they would have been the "wrong tool for the job."
Panetta later explained to lawmakers: "You can't willy-nilly send F-16s there and blow the hell out of place ... You have to have good intelligence."
As this sits, CIA analysts did ask for air support, and no matter the reasons, air support did not show up.
3. Attack was inspired by an anti-Muslim video and protests…
ANSWER: There were many motivations.
Protesters destroy an American flag pulled down from the United States Embassy in Cairo on September 11, 2012. Credit Mohammed Abu Zaid / Associated Press
The film doesn’t get into this question deeply, given it was more an idea that came later as reasoning from politicians. However, in the film, the actor playing Tyrone Woods, one of the four Americans killed, says at one point that he had already heard stories in the U.S. news media that described the attacks as a protest gone awry. The film says he didn't see any protesters in Benghazi.
THE FACTS: Protesters had stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo earlier that day due an anti-Muslim video that had angry dissenters clambering over the walls and setting flags on fire. This certainly attracted international attention, and protests soon dispersed throughout the region.
Obama administration officials, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, suggested a link between the attack and the anti-Muslim video. In a statement issued after the first attack, Clinton said, "Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material on the Internet."
Republicans accused Clinton of trying to mislead the country about the attacks, given evidence that shortly after learning about the attacks, she emailed her daughter, Chelsea, about two State Department officers killed in Benghazi by an ‘al-Qaida-like’ group. Hillary Clinton is not mentioned in the movie, but she told the U.S House Select Committee on Benghazi last October that "there were probably a number of different motivations" for the attacks. "None of us can speak to the individualmotivations of those terrorists who overran our compound and who attacked our CIA annex," she said.
The House Intelligence report said there was "a stream of contradictory and conflicting intelligence that came in after the attacks," but said intelligence "ultimately proved ... there was no protest" in Benghazi that day.
4. Poor security at the diplomatic compound...
The movie frequently makes the argument that the diplomatic post where Amb. Stevens and U.S Foreign Service Information Management Officer, Sean Smith, died, was poorly protected, and that State Department security teams knew they would not be able to defend it from a well-armed attack.
THE FACTS: Many reports have found that requests for security improvements at the compound were not acted upon in Washington, DC.
A State Department Accountability Review Board concluded that systemic management and leadership failures at the agency led to "grossly" inadequate security at the Benghazi mission.
CONCLUSIONS: Don't look for too many conspiracy theories in 13 Hours. Despite all of the debates about what really happened in Benghazi, including the persistent investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails which caught fire through this, the book and the movie are a straight-forward telling of the attempted rescue, with some good fight scenes. Michael Bay isn't exactly known for his political outcries, after all…
Whether the movie will arouse any distrust for Clinton among the electorate — is a question for voters.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Abu Khattala, the suspected organizer of the attack, was captured in June 2015 and is presently awaiting trial.
Watch below for author Mitchell Zuckoff's take on this and more, in his recent interview with Larry King.
-Brandon Davis, News Assistant for PoliticKING with Larry King.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.